For most of my career, I’ve been involved with requests for proposals (RFP). First, as a customer looking to purchase equipment and services. Next as a consultant, guiding my clients through the RFP process. Also as a vendor, responding to companies looking for a consultant.
Two things I’ve learned – first, there’s usually only one vendor who wins the business. Second, not every proposal submitted will be successful.
The second lesson seems like an obvious result of the first lesson. However, based on the reactions from some salespeople when their company doesn’t win a bid, it’s worth repeating – not every proposal submitted will be successful.
How a vendor responds to rejection is important. While they may not have won the business in this situation, there may be opportunities in the future. The customer may have different needs, or the purchasing manager may move to another company.
About 25 years ago, I was supervising a small mail center and had issued a RFP for some bill processing equipment. After selecting a scaled-down solution, I notified everyone who submitted a bid. I received phone calls from two sales representatives whose offers I had rejected.
One salesman said I was making a big mistake, and that my decision showed I didn’t know what I was doing. I let him know I didn’t appreciate his tone, and that I’d spent a lot of money with his company over the past year. His response was, “Not with me.” Five years passed before I would allow anyone from his company present another proposal.
The other call was from a salesman I’ll call “Ken”. Ken asked if I would explain how I made my selection. After listening, Ken said it sounded like I made a good decision, and asked if he could keep in touch. And he did, even as I moved to different companies.
Two different reactions, and two different results. The first company lost out on bids totaling over a million dollars’ worth of business. Ken and I did business several times in the following years. As a speaker at national conferences, I’ve repeated this story to hundreds of people. As an independent consultant, I never endorse companies. But if a client tells me that Ken is their account manager, I let them know they have a good man on their side.
Drafting responses to RFPs takes considerable time and effort. It can be disappointing when those efforts go unrewarded. It’s important that vendors not allow that disappointment negatively impact the opportunity of future business.